Our Young Folks' Plutarch - Rosalie Kaufman


Lysander was a Spartan, and inherited, as all the children of that nation did, a passion for glory and a keen sense of praise or blame. He was poor, and cared little for money, but, strange to say, he enriched Sparta and made her people love wealth. When Alcibiades increased the power of the Athenians at sea, the Lacedæmonians resolved to continue the Peloponnesian war, which had been going on for a long time, and selected Lysander to take charge of their navy.

He went to Ephesus, and finding the people friendly but in danger of being corrupted by the Persians, many of whom were living there, he made that city his headquarters and proceeded to build ships of war. This improved trade by land and water, and from that moment Ephesus began to grow, and in course of time became a great and powerful city.

On hearing that Cyrus, the king of Persia's son, had arrived at Sardis, Lysander went to see him, and they became such good friends that at a banquet which the prince gave in honor of his guest he asked him to oblige him by requesting a favor. "As you are so kind," answered Lysander, "I will ask you to increase the seamen's pay from three to four pence." Cyrus was so pleased with this generous request that he gave Lysander ten thousand pieces of gold. With this money the wages of his men were increased, and many from the enemy's ships deserted to the side where they would get better pay. Still Lysander did not dare to risk a battle with the Athenians; but when Alcibiades left Samos, Antiochus, commander in his absence, sailed with only two ships to the harbor of Ephesus, and shouted out insulting remarks to the Lacedæmonians to show his contempt of them.

Then Lysander ordered a few ships under sail and gave them chase, but when Antiochus was strengthened by more Athenians, he called out extra vessels, and the battle became general. Lysander gained the victory, and took fifteen ships, whereupon the people of Athens were so angry with Alcibiades that they took the command from him. This was not an important battle, except as it affected the future of Alcibiades.

Lysander made himself so popular at Ephesus that great regret was felt when he left, and Callicratidas, who succeeded him, although an honorable, generous, high-spirited Greek, was unsuccessful in whatever he attempted. This was not just, for Lysander was by no means an honest, straightforward man; his policy was that it was excusable to resort to any degree of deceit in order to gain one's point. He would laugh at those who thought otherwise, and say, "Where the lion's skin will not reach, you must patch it up with the fox's."

Cyrus did not forget his friendship for Lysander, but sent for him to Sardis, where he presented him with large sums of money. Nor was this all: when he went to visit his father in Media, he ordered that Lysander should receive the tribute of the towns and govern in his stead until he returned, begging him not to fight the Athenians during his absence, because he meant to bring back a powerful fleet from Phœnicia and Cilicia for that purpose. Lysander promised, and Cyrus departed on his journey.

But it was impossible for the Spartan commander to keep still with a fleet at his command and his Athenian enemy still powerful. So he cruised about, reduced several islands, pillaged some important towns, and then, sailing to the Hellespont, captured the city of Lampsacus. This was a great loss to the enemy, who proceeded at once to give battle to Lysander. He refused to accept their challenge, however, because he feared that his fleet was not powerful enough to destroy theirs, and so he kept them at bay for two or three days, until, having made up their minds that they had nothing to fear from a cowardly commander, they ceased their watchfulness. It was for just such an opportunity that the Lacedæmonians waited; so on the fifth day, when many of the Athenians were enjoying themselves on land, others were asleep, and the rest preparing their dinner, Lysander rushed on to an attack, and took them so completely by surprise that three thousand of their number were captured and their whole fleet was seized. Thus within one hour, and with little bloodshed, Lysander put an end to a conflict that had lasted twenty-seven years, and caused the death of more generals than all the wars of Greece combined.

The three thousand prisoners were condemned to die, and Lysander asked Philocles, one of their generals, what punishment he thought he, who had given his countrymen bad advice, deserved. "Do not start a question where there is no judge to decide it," answered the brave general; "but now that you are a conqueror, proceed as you would have been proceeded with had you been conquered." He then bathed, dressed himself in a rich robe, and led his countrymen to execution, he being the first to suffer.

Lysander next sailed among the various seaport cities, and ordered all the Athenians to go to Athens. His object was so to overcrowd the city as to produce a famine, and save the trouble of a long siege. In each place he left a Lacedæmonian governor, thus increasing his control of Greece, for it was his own friends whom he appointed, and they had power of life and death. The famine that Lysander had worked for really did visit the Athenians, so that when he entered their harbor, called the Piræus, they were obliged to surrender. He then wrote to the Ephors, or magistrates of Sparta, "Athens is taken." Thereupon they issued this decree: "The Athenians must destroy the Piræus and pull down the long walls; they must give up all the cities they possess, and live within the bounds of Attica. On these conditions they shall have peace, provided they pay what is reasonable and recall their exiles. As to their ships, we will give orders as to the number they may be allowed to keep."

Lysander took all the Athenian ships except twelve, and finding that at the end of the time he had granted they had not destroyed their walls and harbor, he did it himself. Then he changed their form of government, placed thirty tyrants over the city and in the harbor, and garrisoned the citadel under the command of a Spartan.

Now, since Lysander's power was so absolute, of course he had a great deal of wealth, and all the gold and silver that he had taken or had been presented with he sent to Sparta. This was a source of uneasiness to the wisest of the citizens, who said some hard things about Lysander for introducing an evil that would be sure to increase crime. A council was therefore called, who decreed "that no coin of gold or silver should be introduced into Sparta, but that only their old money should be used." Their money, being of iron, had little value, because it was so bulky and heavy that a whole cart-load was not a large sum. Lysander's friends would not have his gold and silver sent away, but proposed by way of compromise that it should be considered public treasure, and that to use it for private purposes should be accounted a crime. This was not wise, for it only made gold and silver coin appear more valuable, and encouraged a desire to possess it.

Lysander was the first Greek to whom altars were erected and sacrifices offered as though he had been a god. Not that he was beloved or honored, but that he was feared, and people superstitiously believed that the gods might thus avert the cruelty from themselves which Lysander showed towards others. So much flattery made him vain and haughty; in return for friendship or hospitality he graciously bestowed government positions, and any man who was so unfortunate as to arouse his displeasure was put to death.

He was not above resorting to dishonesty in order to gain a point: thus, when he had conquered Miletus, fearing that the plebeian party might escape, he swore to do them no harm if they would leave their hiding-places. They did so, and were handed over to the opposite party, by whom eight hundred of them were put to death. Such shameful scenes were repeated in various cities, for Lysander knew no law but his own wicked passions, and he was remarkably cruel and revengeful.

Many complaints were made, but the Lacedæmonians paid little attention to them until Pharnabazus, whose country Lysander had pillaged and destroyed, despatched a messenger to Sparta to inform against him. Then the Ephors sent him a scroll commanding his return. The scroll was made in this way: when the Ephors sent an officer on an expedition they had two round pieces of wood cut of precisely the same length and thickness; one they kept, the other they gave to the person who went away. These pieces of wood were called scytales. When the Ephors wanted to send a secret communication, they took a long, narrow strip of parchment and rolled it from end to end on the scytale like a bandage; they then wrote upon the parchment following the direction of the wrapping, took it off, folded it, and sent it to the possessor of the corresponding scytale, who could read the message only after the parchment was bound as it had been when it was written upon.

As soon as Lysander received the scroll he hastened to wind it, and found out what order it contained for him. He was not only distressed, but alarmed, when he read it. He knew that he had incurred the anger of Pharnabazus; nevertheless he sought an interview with that monarch, hoping to soften him and to have the charges against himself withdrawn. He used all the eloquence he could bring to bear, and the result was that Pharnabazus consented to write to the Ephors and acknowledge that he had been hasty and unjust in the complaints he had made against Lysander. After showing the letter to his visitor, Pharnabazus replaced it by another containing even more serious complaints, which he had prepared secretly. This he sealed in the presence of the unsuspecting Lysander, who felt greatly relieved at having, as he supposed, the dreadful charges against his conduct removed, and hastened with the sealed packet to Sparta. His surprise and indignation must have been great when he was shown the letter of which he had been the bearer, particularly as the Lacedæmonians were exceedingly friendly towards Pharnabazus, and were not likely to order light punishment to any one who had wronged him.

Two or three days elapsed, when Lysander asked and received permission of the Ephors to go to the temple of Jupiter Ammon, there to offer sacrifices that he had vowed to the god before the war. This temple was in Libya, for which place Lysander set sail at once. While he was gone, the various Greek nations resolved to drive out his friends and re-establish popular government. The Athenians were the first to revolt, and attacked and defeated the thirty tyrants; then Lysander returned and persuaded the Lacedæmonians to support him and punish the people. So they gave large sums of money to the tyrants to carry on the war, and appointed Lysander their general. Then Pausanias marched into Attica, pretending that he wished to support the thirty tyrants against the people, but his real object was to put an end to the war and prevent Lysander from becoming master of Athens again. This he managed by making the Athenians friendly with each other, and, as they worked together, quiet was soon restored.

It was through the influence of Lysander that Agesilaus, the great soldier and statesman, was placed upon the throne of Lacedæmon. Having done him this service, he persuaded him to undertake an expedition to Asia, assuring him that he might easily conquer the Persians and add much to his own glory. Lysander accompanied him. He was so well known in Asia that he was applied to for everything, and the people stood at his door or followed him in crowds to receive his orders. This made Agesilaus angry, and the more attention Lysander received the less would he show him favors, until at last it became generally known that if any one asked for a thing through Lysander the king would be sure to refuse. Then people applied directly to Agesilaus, but still showed deference to Lysander, and joined him in the public walks and other places of resort.

The king's envy and jealousy became so great at last that he appointed Lysander his carver at table, and said to the people, "Now go, if you please, and pay court to my carver."

Lysander sought the presence of the king, and said, "Truly, Agesilaus, you know very well how to tread upon your friends."

"Yes, when they want to be greater than myself," was the reply; "but it is just that those who increase my power should share in it."

"Perhaps this is what you say, rather than what I have done. I beg of you, however, for the sake of those strangers who have their eyes on us, to put me in some post where I shall be least offensive and most useful to you."

Accordingly, he was sent as ambassador to the Hellespont, where, though still angry with Agesilaus, he performed his duty faithfully. After a time he returned to Sparta, with the intention of making certain changes in her government. For this purpose he pretended that the oracles had given him instruction, and offered the priests and priestesses large sums of money to make answers that would suit his purpose. But they were not to be bribed, and he was found out. Nevertheless, the Spartans brought no charge against him.

Before Agesilaus returned from Asia, Greece was engaged in the Bœotian war, during which Lysander was surprised and killed by the Thebans. His burial was conducted with the usual honors, and his poverty at the time of his death raised him very much in the estimation of his countrymen, for they then saw that he had desired wealth and power only for them.